Pittsburgh councilwoman says anti-harassment bill is ‘feel-good legislation’
Two Pittsburgh City Council members on Wednesday said they’ve been harassed by their peers on numerous occasions and that a proposed “feel-good” bill requiring mandatory anti-harassment training would do nothing to address it.
Under the legislation sponsored by council President Bruce Kraus, all employees — including council, the mayor and city controller — would have to attend anti-harassment training sessions each year.
Councilman Ricky Burgess of Homewood said the training would be good for employees, but he said the city can’t force elected officials to attend.
“Let’s be honest,” Burgess said. “We’re elected by the people. You can’t make us do it. We don’t have to do it, and some of us won’t do it, and (those) of us who do it won’t practice it.”
Councilwomen Darlene Harris of Spring Hill and Theresa Kail-Smith of Westwood said they’ve experienced and witnessed incidents of harassment by other council members. They noted that Pittsburgh already has a zero-tolerance ordinance prohibiting harassment.
“I have seen more harassment on this floor than I’ve seen in this entire city,” Kail-Smith said, adding that it has included holding back projects for council districts and nasty emails and text messages. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on here that would fall under harassment in a private workplace, but in here it’s an accepted practice. … I think everyone thinks this is feel-good legislation. It sounds great.”
Neither she nor Harris would identify officials they think are guilty of harassment, but Harris has previously accused Kraus of taking a Nativity set she displayed in council offices at Christmas.
“I think he needs a six-week course on it himself,” Harris said.
The two have battled repeatedly during meetings, and Kraus once fined Harris for being out of order after accusing her of tossing a gavel at him.
Kraus did not respond to a message seeking comment.
During the meeting, Kraus urged members to approve the bill.
“Whether it be sexual orientation, whether it be age, whether it be gender, we will stand up, step up and insist that we as employers here in the city of Pittsburgh are leaders in promoting civil and harassment-free workplaces,” he said.
Council approved the training by a 6-0 preliminary vote. Kail-Smith abstained, saying she wanted more details, and Councilman Daniel Lavelle was absent. There is one vacancy on the nine-member council.